Audits question oversight of infrastructure on First Nations reserves

OTTAWA — Two government audits show Ottawa is earmarking about a billion dollars a year to build and repair First Nations infrastructure, but its myriad officials are not keeping proper tabs on how the money is spent.

OTTAWA — Two government audits show Ottawa is earmarking about a billion dollars a year to build and repair First Nations infrastructure, but its myriad officials are not keeping proper tabs on how the money is spent.

Even as Prime Minister Stephen Harper accuses the Attawapiskat First Nations of mismanaging federal funds, the internal audits posted recently suggest the criticism could apply to the federal bureaucracy as well.

The audits say there are “significant gaps” in how the on-reserve infrastructure funding is controlled, and that the financial reporting system is riddled with inconsistencies.

The audit of on-reserve community infrastructure says targets, standards and compliance systems are often ignored or inconsistently applied, leaving the government with an unclear picture of how well its money is working.

When it comes to water and waste water, for example, the report notes the department has ranked many water systems to be low risk. At the same time, there were no inspections for more than a year on these water systems — at least not until a national assessment of First Nations water systems prompted some regions to undertake testing.

“As a result, there is a risk of inaccuracy of data reported in the departmental performance report related to the risk levels of water and waste water systems,” the audit says.

The national assessment, published in July, found that 39 per cent of First Nations water systems were at high risk of being unsafe, affecting 25 per cent of people living on reserves. It said Ottawa would need $1.2 billion in repairs, better infrastructure and training to fix the problem, as well as an additional $4.7 billion over 10 years to keep pace with growing demand.

But the continued monitoring by Aboriginal Affairs officials didn’t thoroughly define such a widespread problem because they didn’t properly apply the monitoring systems they had set up, the audit says.

The audit of money for First Nations water, sewage, schools, electrical power, roads, bridges and fire protection was completed in February 2011 but only posted recently on the department’s website.

It concludes that management of major capital projects is “adequate”, but that “there remain gaps” in governance, risk management and control frameworks for projects of all sizes. As for minor projects, and spending on operations and maintenance, “significant gaps remain over the management of funding.”

In 2010-2011, the federal government put $1.2 billion into on-reserve infrastructure. That amount will drop to just below $1 billion this fiscal year because extra one-time funding from the federal stimulus program will expire.

First Nations chiefs complain repeatedly that they can’t do any long-term planning for infrastructure improvements because funding arrangements are too short-term and too strictly defined.

First Nations leaders also say they are subject to layers and layers of accountability and audit, even as the federal bureaucracy in Ottawa grows larger and the communities grow poorer.

So the federal government is under pressure to back off and allow band chiefs and councils more leeway to spend their federal allotments as they see fit, while also under scrutiny to spend taxpayers’ dollars wisely.

“We are committed to ensuring that transfer payments are managed in a manner that respects sound stewardship and the highest level of integrity, transparency, and accountability,” said Michelle Yao, spokeswoman for Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan.

A second recently posted internal audit looked at how officials managed $668 million in stimulus funding earmarked for housing and infrastructure on reserves.

That audit, also completed in February, found that officials tacked the new money onto existing programs so they could get the funding out the door quickly and efficiently.

But they did not add any extra risk management or monitoring to keep a close eye on the additional money.

As a result, “there is an increased risk that projects will not be completed as intended, that funds may be expended for ineligible activities, and that funds available for re-distribution will not be identified in a timely manner,” the audit says.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Red Deer RCMP say a 30-year-old man faces sexual charges against a teen. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Innisfail RCMP arrest man following ‘lengthy pursuit’

Innisfail RCMP say a “lengthy pursuit” through a rural area ended with… Continue reading

Red Deer South MLA Jason Stephan speaks in the Alberta Legislature on Wednesday in this image from his Facebook page.
Red Deer MLA Jason Stephan sounds off on socialism in anti-lockdown speech

Red Deer-South MLA Jason Stephan has applauded his government’s COVID-19 response, saying… Continue reading

(Photo by Paul Cowley/ Advocate Staff)
Mask bylaws not popular in rural areas

Red Deer and Blackfalds bylaws requiring masks in public places kick in on Monday

A GoFundMe campaign to support a Stettler couple following a fire has raised more than $3,000. (Contributed photo)
Family pet dies in Stettler fire

GoFundMe page has raised more than $3K so far

Canadian Olympic gymnast and National Sport School alumni Kyle Shewfelt announces his retirement in Calgary, Thursday, May 21, 2009. Calgary's board of education will close the National Sport School that has produced Olympic and Paralympic champions for 26 years. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Calgary’s National Sport School to close, looks to join a different school division

Calgary’s National Sport School to close, looks to join a different school division

Canada's Erica Wiebe, left, celebrates after defeating Nigeria's Blessing Onyebuchi, right on the ground, to win Gold medal in women's FS 76Kg wrestling at the Commonwealth Games on Gold Coast, Australia, Thursday, April 12, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Manish Swarup
Canada’s Olympic champion wrestler Erica Wiebe eyes return to competition

Canada’s Olympic champion wrestler Erica Wiebe eyes return to competition

Louisiana-Lafayette running back Elijah Mitchell (15) is tackled by Coastal Carolina linebacker Enock Makonzo (43) and safety Cameron Mitchell (49) during the first half of an NCAA football game in Lafayette, La., Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020. It's already been a season to remember but Canadian Enock Makonzo and the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers will chase two more firsts Saturday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Paul Kieu
Canadian Enock Makonzo, Chanticleers chase Sun Belt East regular-season crown

Canadian Enock Makonzo, Chanticleers chase Sun Belt East regular-season crown

Atlanta United's Mo Adams, right, challenges Toronto FC's Alejandro Pozuelo during first half MLS soccer action in East Hartford, Conn., Sunday, Oct. 18, 2020. Toronto FC's Alejandro Pozuelo says he finished the season with an injured leg. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Jessica Hill
Toronto FC ready to refocus on future as long, hard season comes to an end

Toronto FC ready to refocus on future as long, hard season comes to an end

Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu and Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart speak to the media during a visit to the Molson Overdose Prevention Site in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, Thursday, January 16, 2020. City councillors in Vancouver voted unanimously this week to ask federal officials for an exemption to Canada's Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, a decision advocates hope will blaze a trail for the decriminalization of small amounts of illicit drugs for personal use in other municipalities. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Advocates aim to shape ‘Vancouver model’ for drug decriminalization

Advocates aim to shape ‘Vancouver model’ for drug decriminalization

Senator Murray Sinclair appears before the Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples in Ottawa, Tuesday, May 28, 2019. Sinclair is planning to leave the Senate early next year. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand
Sen. Murray Sinclair, former head of TRC, set to leave the upper chamber next January

Sen. Murray Sinclair, former head of TRC, set to leave the upper chamber next January

Carolina De La Torre, right, owner of Arepas Ranch in Calgary, poses for a photo with her husband in this undated handout photo. The Venezuelan woman who believes she was used as part of Jason Kenney's argument not to lockdown restaurants in the province remembers her encounter with the premier as a lot less dramatic than he suggested. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Carolina De La Torre *MANDATORY CREDIT*
‘No crying’: Venezuelan refugee Kenney cited says interaction was less dramatic

‘No crying’: Venezuelan refugee Kenney cited says interaction was less dramatic

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau listens to a question from a reporter during a bi-weekly news conference outside Rideau cottage in Ottawa, Friday, Nov. 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau feels most Canadians could be vaccinated by September 2021

Trudeau feels most Canadians could be vaccinated by September 2021

Most Read